I’m constantly on the lookout for new ways to help my leg muscles recover so that I can enjoy my next run. And the faster or longer the previous effort, the greater the recovery challenge.
After years of fine-tuning various techniques, I’m happy to report that I recover faster today than I did years ago. What’s my secret? Two words: immediate action. If you jump-start your recovery as soon as you finish a tough workout or race, you can speed up the process considerably.
So after your next tough run or race, do your normal cooldown, then follow my five-step routine. It’ll get you ready for your next challenge in no time.
1. Move your legs-then raise them.
After a hard race or run, you can help your leg muscles pump out waste products by walking for 5 to 10 minutes afterward. If you want to eat or drink while you’re walking, that’s fine. Just keep moving at a nice, easy pace. After your walk, sit down and elevate your legs for up to 10 minutes.
2. Keep your legs cool.
Next you’ll want to soak your legs in cool water for 5 to 10 minutes. Any cool water source will do-think tub, pool, stream, pond, or (if you’re lucky) the ocean. And it’s still beneficial to soak your legs even 2 or 3 hours after your run.
The most courageous soakers add ice cubes to their tub water, but cold water straight from the tap works fine. Avoid hot-water soaks, as they can actually slow down your recovery process.
3. Repeat step one.
If you can fit it in, go for another 2- to 5-kilometre walk later in the day, then elevate your legs for another 10 minutes. Remember: Like the walk immediately after your hard training effort, this walk should be slow and comfortable.
4. Give your legs a rubdown.
Whether you seek out a certified massage therapist, a friend, or you do it yourself, massage can really speed recovery by improving circulation and helping to remove waste products from your muscles. The sooner you rub down your tired leg muscles, the better. That’s why most major marathons provide massage tents in the finish areas (and why there are such long lines of runners there).
Keep in mind that you may feel some pain as your stiff muscles are massaged. But that pain level should never rise above 6 on a scale where 10 represents excruciating pain.
5. Walk the next day.
The day after a very hard effort, it’s better for your legs if you walk for 30 to 60 minutes rather than taking the day off completely. Walking brings more blood flow (with its nutrients and oxygen) to your tired muscles, which accelerates the recovery process.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know just how much rest you need after a hard race. Here’s a good rule, courtesy of New Zealander Jack Foster, a former marathon world record holder in the over-40 age division: Take 1 easy day for each mile (1600m) run in a hard race.
I extend Jack’s rule to any particularly tough workout. For example, if you run a 6-mile (10km) speed session that leaves your legs begging for mercy, alternate a day of walking with a day of slow running for the next 6 days. – J.G.